This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 6th of August 2017.
There is something very special about seeing an elderly couple who have been married for many years still walking hand in hand with each other.
For me, it is a beautiful and symbolic way of declaring that they have taken the journey of life together and they still choose to do so.
At some point in a marriage ceremony words along the lines of these will be made: “and they shall become one flesh.” It is an ancient way of describing the marriage relationship and it is filled with promise, potential and possibility.
Promise because when two people marry they begin a lifetime journey together toward “oneness”.
Potential because two people come together with different gifts, personalities, ideas, abilities and backgrounds that can be fused together to achieve what they could not do alone.
And possibility because of all the good that they may achieve together!
It is important to understand then, that oneness is not something that is immediately achieved once a couple has said “I do”.
Oneness is a lifelong journey, taken together and toward which couples progressively move.
I have been thinking about this for some time and recently I came across this description by Chuck Swindoll concerning the topic of oneness. (It’s always nice to find an author who agrees with you!):
Becoming one flesh suggests a process, not an instant fact. Two people with different backgrounds, temperaments, habits, scars, feelings, parents, educational pursuits, gifts, and interests don’t immediately leave a wedding ceremony in perfect unity. It is a lifelong project requiring wisdom, understanding, and knowledge … The whole idea of mutual acceptance, giving, listening, forgiving, belonging, and direction was implied. It is two individuals willingly blending into each other’s lives, desiring to share with and thereby complete the other.
‘One Flesh’ also has to do with the physical aspect of marriage. The sexual aspect of marriage is essential to the marriage as much as the leaving and cleaving. The success of the sexual relationship between husband and wife is directly proportionate to the success of the other areas of intimacy in marriage — emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social.
What I am aware of though, is that many marriages do not experience this idea of oneness at all, even less are they moving towards it.
The question arises, in spite of the definition just given, what exactly is oneness in marriage?
It is certainly not some “mystical” experience that a couple has and which lifts you to a higher plane in your marriage!
Oneness is essentially a strong bond of unity that is built between a man and a woman as they grow in their love, experience and support of each other through the many changing facets of life.
Interestingly, when Jesus said that He and His Father were “one” it was the same word used to describe a couple when they become one.
In other words, oneness flows directly out of a deep relationship of truly knowing one another.
If this is the ideal for marriage that is held up for us, then how do we get there?
It is tempting to think of oneness as the goal of marriage, but to me that reduces it to one more thing to do in life. Authentic and fulfilling marriage is not about ticking off a list of KPIs to ensure a successful relationship any more than it is about following the “10 Steps to a Successful Marriage” kind of approach.
Oneness in marriage is best seen as a journey or trip that a couple makes together over a lifetime toward a destination of security, wholeness and freedom and it will be a journey that is never quite fully reached because the couple will always be discovering something new along the way!
I describe this journey as the pathways to oneness and I will share some of these with you over the next few months!
By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!
When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…
It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.
And there have been many stages!
There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.
Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.
Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)
Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!
Our nest is rarely empty these days!
Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.
I do not say this to boast or to gloat.
Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.
The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.
So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?
The following thoughts come to mind.
From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.
We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).
Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.
We have made time for each other.
Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.
We have also prayed together.
This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.
Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.
Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.
It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!
Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!
God can make a difference in your marriage.
I know this from firsthand experience.
Karen and I both come from dysfunctional family backgrounds, so even before we were married we made a commitment to God and each other that we would work hard to not repeat the mistakes of previous generations of our families of origin.
What difference has God made for me personally in my marriage?
I have discovered the joy of loving my wife sacrificially.
Husbands are instructed to “love their wives” and it is the kind of love that is willing to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own, to be willing to serve that person and to consider their interests before your own.
This kind of love does not come easily, especially when you are in the heat of an argument and your wife (you believe) is being unreasonable!
So, the only way I can possibly love like this is to ask God to help me. The perfect example of sacrificial love is seen in His Son Jesus who gave up His own life for us when we did not deserve it.
My default button drifts toward selfishness when I am under pressure so I need the occasional reminder that I also, am not perfect but God still loves me anyway!
I have learned that honesty is liberating in marriage.
I am talking here about honesty with your wife about where you are “at.” There have been times in my marriage where I have thought it best to not share with Karen what I might be struggling with at any given moment. It’s not that I have sought to be deceptive or tried to hide things from her – I just did not want to cause her unnecessary worry or concern.
This is not a good policy!
Firstly, if I do not share with her then I miss out on one of the greatest privileges of marriage. That of being supported, cared and prayed for by my best friend. As Solomon wisely said, “two are better than one” because they can lean on each other in the storms of life.
Secondly, Karen can read me like a book, so there is no point in me trying to simply soldier on!
I have found that good communication develops greater intimacy between us.
One of the great descriptions of marriage is the Biblical statement that a husband “knew” his wife. When we read this, we immediately think of the sexual relationship yet there is so much more to this word than simply sex.
To “know” carries with it the ideas of knowing the other person emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.
The word underlines the very essence of what a relationship is all about – to my wife for the person she truly is, to see her more deeply than others see her and to see what no one else sees: the beautiful person God created her to be.
Which is the way God sees me; the person I really am. So, what I learn through my relationship with God changes, for the good, the way I relate to my wife.
And the only way that I can truly know Karen well is to talk with her, listen to her, share with her, dream with her, cry with her and laugh with her.
I experience what God described as “oneness” in marriage.
This oneness does not happen overnight. When a couple is married they begin a lifelong journey toward oneness and there will be the inevitable ups and downs along that journey.
But they do not travel that road alone. If they are both committed to God, He goes before them, encouraging, nurturing and shaping them into the people He wants them to be.
And the result is oneness – a true unity of body, mind, heart and soul.
God can make a difference in your marriage – why not let Him start today?
May is the month in which we honour our Mums, but I also like to think it is a good opportunity for us to show our appreciation for women in general. (And not just once a year – showing respect and care for women is something that should be a natural part of our lifestyle, regardless of our age or gender)!
And one of the women I admire the most is a lady whose story I first read about over 40 years ago – the late Corrie ten Boom.
Corrie and her family gave shelter to Jews in their home in Haarlem, Netherlands during WW2.
When their activities were discovered, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Nazi Concentration camps.
Betsie died in the camp but Corrie was miraculously released and after the war she went on to speak to countless people around the world about the love, forgiveness and grace of God.
She also wrote about her own very personal encounter with forgiveness:
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to people …of the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him.’
I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’
As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that bitterness and resentment destroys relationships and I have seen many times how this has fatally eroded marriages.
Philip Yancey said:
Ungrace causes cracks to fissure open between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, between scientists, and prisoners, and tribes, and races. Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.
Faced with her hurtful past and former tormentor that day in Munich, Corrie ten Boom chose to travel the path of forgiveness and both she and the man before her were set free.
How are your relationships today, especially your marriage?
Faced with past hurts and angry words, will you choose to hang on to them or will you choose to forgive?
He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.
Perhaps it is time for you to take a walk over the bridge of forgiveness.
“I HAS NO REGRETS!”
If you have seen the film, The BFG, you will know that this is the response of the evil, human-eating giant, Fleshlumpeater, when he is asked by Sophie if he is sorry for all the bad things he has done.
Regret is one of those emotions that eats away silently at our souls and rare indeed is the person who has no regrets.
Regret is so damaging to our well-being it compelled one author to state:
Regret empties anticipation, flattens dreams, and suffocates hope, because regret is a form of self-punishment … regret beats us up with the past.
I have come to realise that I have lived for far too long with many regrets and like the quote above says, they have beaten me up.
Many of you reading this understand precisely what I mean.
A father and son argue heatedly with each other and the father shouts out, “You’re not my son! I disown you!”
The door slams furiously as the son walks out and father and son never speak to each other again.
In the midst of a tense confrontation a husband spits out at his wife, “I wish I had never married you” and he opens a wound of rejection in her that may never heal.
A young girl rues the day she gossiped behind her friend’s back, wishing she could have the moment over, to take it all back.
Or a demanding mother with high expectations for her children makes it clear that she regards them as “failures” and an embarrassment to her.
Regret comes in all sizes, takes many forms and more often than not, it involves broken relationships.
Regret keeps us up at night, forcing us to maintain a sleepless vigil as we rehearse our failures and shortcomings over and over in our minds.
Bear in mind, I am not talking about hindsight.
Hindsight is that wonderful gift which enables us to process the mistakes from our past in a healthy way and, importantly, to learn from them.
I remember the time I stuck my finger into a live electrical light socket at my grandmother’s home, wondering what would happen.
I soon learned and the subsequent jolt I received taught me a valuable lesson: “I will never do that again!”
Hindsight enables us to learn from our past mistakes.
Regret wants to keep us imprisoned by them.
Consider then, how Jesus deals with regret.
On that first Easter, there are regrets aplenty!
Judas, betrayer of Jesus, filled with remorse, dies a lonely, despairing death by his own hand.
Peter is humiliated and ashamed.
Once the proud boaster who said he would follow Jesus anywhere and even die with him, he is haunted by the words that fell from his lips, three times, no less:
“I do not know the man!”
And two walk a dusty road together, filled with sorrow over the death of Jesus and what might have been.
But in the middle of all this sorrow, Jesus bursts out of the grave alive, confronting everyone’s regret and changing things forever.
Peter is restored.
Two travellers have their hope renewed.
Disciples are commissioned.
“The time for regret is over” says Jesus. “Now take this message of hope to the whole world!”
Here is what I am discovering.
I do not have to be held hostage by my regrets!
Because not only did Jesus die for my past mistakes, he completely obliterated them – and yours – when He rose from the dead!
In that decisive act, our past failures were dealt with once and for all and he has given us new life.
This changes everything, including our relationships.
We cannot change the past, but we can live free from it.
And we change our present when we rest in the fact that because of Jesus, regret can no longer “beat us up!”
IN NOVEMBER, 1990 I was standing in Pearl Harbour listening to an elderly, retired United States navy man tell his story about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.
I had joined a free, guided tour around the harbour and the scene of the United States’ entry into World War Two.
Our guide was around 19 years of age at the time of the attack and as he retold his story the day I was there, he also spoke of the anger and rage he felt as he fired round after round into the sky at enemy planes.
Then he said something that caught my attention.
“Folks”, he asked kindly, “Have you ever felt like you are out of the will of God?”
Given the silence of the rest of the group around me, he obviously had their attention as well!
He went on to explain that in that very moment of anger, death and destruction, he knew he was out of the will of God!
Quite a statement from an elderly man to a group of tourists.
He then told us how he had signed up to the navy despite the fact he knew God had called him to be a preacher.
So, upon the conclusion of the War, having been discharged from the Navy, he obeyed God and became a Presbyterian minister for the rest of his life.
Then came the punchline to his story.
He went on to tell how one of the Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbour also became a committed Christian and minister after the war.
Decades later, the two former enemies met with the Japanese pastor preaching in the old navy man’s church in Hawaii!
As he brought his story to its conclusion, he held up a photograph of the two men, once alienated by culture, hatred and ideology, now embracing each other and reconciled before the Cross that stood in the church.
Every one of us is living in a world divided bitterly along racial, political and ideological lines.
News services bring us reports every day of nations at war with each other or the latest violent protest over an unpopular decision.
And we read of relational breakdowns in marriages and families that all too often end with murder or suicide as the only “solution”.
Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once commented:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
When a marriage breaks down, it is all too easy to blame the other person, thinking he or she needs to change.
But as Solzhenitsyn points out, “good and evil” courses through the heart of every human being.
Blaming the other person will not reconcile us.
Ignoring or trying to change the past will not reconcile us.
Mere words will not reconcile us.
But Jesus will.
That is the point of the Cross. There a dying thief finds reconciliation and peace with God.
There a man, Peter, who denies his Lord, finds reconciliation.
And there I have found peace and reconciliation – with my sin, my past, with people and with God. I still struggle a lot and I don’t always love people as well as I should.
But I know this: reconciliation begins with me, reaching out to people who at times both annoy and drive me crazy but with the sincere hope that perhaps they will see Jesus in me and be reconciled to Him.
Is your marriage in trouble?
My prayer for you is that you will ask Jesus to bring His peace to your hungry and wounded soul.
Then take the first step yourself to reconcile with your husband or wife.
FOR A FEW YEARS now my wife Karen has selected a word to meditate upon and use as a theme for her life throughout the year to come. It is an enriching experience because it serves to focus her thoughts, prayers and actions at a personal level and in her relationships with others, including me!
As I reflect on my own life over the past twelve months, the word “enough” is a great description of how my life has been.
During this past year, God led me into the wilderness again, and along the way, He turned my thoughts to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.
David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory – God Himself – in the house of worship (verses 2-5). He writes,
“I have beheld…your power and your glory…”
“What was it he saw?” I wonder. “And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?”
More importantly, David saw God in the sanctuary. I take this to mean that God Himself is the One we seek, a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.
So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse 3-
“Because your love is better than life…”
To know the love of God in your life, and the peace, comfort and security this brings, is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness. For David, this is enough –
“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.” (v5)
The message for me was straightforward enough: “No matter what I might be facing right now, God is all I need!”
The Christmas/New Year period can be a very lonely one fore many people. They suffer through the break up of a marriage, family or friendship that “came out of left field!”
“I didn’t see it coming…” is a sad, but often heard refrain from many broken-hearted souls.
The devastation of losing someone that you had invested yourself in so completely can leave you feeling as if you will never recover or be a whole person again.
If that is you right now, I want you to know that there is real hope. Your circumstances may not change, but I can assure you that God has not forgotten you, He loves you deeply and He can be enough for you.
I am learning, in my times of being in the wilderness, to choose
To live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.
To live my life for His glory.
Above all, to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.
In the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him; I can thank Him for every good gift in my life – His love, family, friends, life itself – and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly on Him.
In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.
He is enough … and He can be enough for you!